Celebrating ‘Capability’ Brown & The Yorkshire Landscape

My wife and I took advantage of the hottest day of the years so far and journeyed in to town. First stop was Major Tom’s Social, where we supped, however the destination was always going to be The Mercer Art Gallery, Harrogate. Kathryn had spotted that there ‘was an exhibition about trees’ on at the gallery and further research yielded the familiar name ‘Capability’ Brown. It was part of a two stunning exhibitions and a series of events celebrating the tercentenary of the birth of the Landscape Artist, Lancelot Brown, and new art inspired by the Yorkshire landscape.

In the heat, we trundled in to the mercer to immediately see a day-glo redition of a deciduous tree. This was part of the exhibition FALSE PERSPECTIVES by Kate Whiteford OBE. In this exhibition, Kate Whiteford explores the reality and the artifice of the landscapes of Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown with her large scale, sometime pixelated, images of trees. Also on show were the artists excellent watercolours. Kate’s watercolours were created on parchment paper – creating a viened web much like a root system – I loved it!

300 Years after the birth of Capability Brown, The Mercer is celebrating his work in Yorkshire with an exhibition of paintings, drawings and manuscripts. There was also a moving image element to the exhibit with a film by Simon Warner that depicts a group of Capability Brown’s Yorkshire landscapes as they are today. The exhibition are presented in partnership by the yorkshire Gardens Trust and the Mercer Gallery. The Yorkshire rust in 1996 with the aims of protecting and prooting the parks, gardens and designed landscapes of Yorkshire.

So, that was the blub – wheat about the review? Well, I can’t give one: art is something that happens between the ears and who am I to tell you what you will get from it. Yes, there is a whole load of official critics who can wax lyrical on the beauty of such work – but – all I can tell you is that I really enjoyed both exhibits.

I have recollections of covering Capability Brown at College – reading a book about him, I believe. So this was him coming full circle – leaping out of the dusty tomes of academia and grabbing my tipsy attention.

Why You Should Not Buy A Siemens Product

tumblr_njxxojd9p61tzr9z1o1_500On Wednesday 15th June, Greenpeace launched a campaign to save the Tapajos region of the Amazon rainforest from a proposed mega-dam that would flood an area of forest bigger than Greater London. From 27th June, Greenpeace will be targeting Siemens, who are in the running for building some of the mega-dam.

Some Facts About Siemens

  • According to CEO Joe Kaeser, the company stands for fairness & integrity, ingenuity & quality & innovation. These values, as well as sustainability and responsibility, are supposed to shape their actions in the future.
  • In the run up tot he UN Framework Convention on Climate Change COP in Paris (2015), Siemans announced it’s plans to be climate neutral by 2030.
  • Siemens has committed to a wide range of environmental & human rights policies. If the company had applied them then Siemens would never have got involved with the Belo Monte project, let alone the Tapajos.
  • In November 2006 a large-scale raid against Siemens offices and homes of senior management uncovered about 4300 illegal payments and more than 330 dubious projects on the company’s books. A total of ā‚¬1.3 Billion had been paid.
  • In Brazil, Siemens received a 5-year ban in 2014 on bidding for or signing federal contracts following accusations that Siemens had paid to obtain contracts from the Brazilian Post Office & Telegraph Corporation between 1999 and 2004.

Context

The Tapajos River is the last major river in the Brazilian Amazon free from hydro-electric dams and is one of the most threatened regions. The threat of illegal logging, cattle ranching and soya farming are now joined by a new threat; a series of vast hydro-electric dams that will flood an area bigger than that of Greater London.

In addition to its incredible diversity of plants and animals, including endangered species, the Tapajos basin is also fundamental to the Munduruku people, who have lived in the area for thousands of years – using the forest and river for food and transportation. Their demand is simple; they want the right to determine their own future and what happens on their land.

Greenpeace, together with the Munduruku people, are calling for the Tapajos mega-dam project to be scrapped. Siemens is likely to be a major player in the building of the dam, so my first step – as a Greenpeace activist – is to put pressure on Siemens.

Sao Luiz do TapajĆ³s is the first hydro-electric dam planned for what what the Brazilian Government calls the Tapajos Hydro-dam Complex. The complex provides five dams planned in the Tapajos river and it’s tributary, the Jamanxim. The area flooded will be greater than London.

What are the Environmental Consequences?

The Brazilian Governments own Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) – criticised for being an inadequate assessment – found an enormous variety of species in the vicinity of the dam site, including 1378 plant species, 553 bird species, 352 fish species, 109 amphibian species, 95 mammals and 75 reptiles. Many of them were endemic to the region and / or threatened with extinction. On the same surveys, species new to science were discovered – including a new monkey and five new bat species.

How many hydropower plants are planned for the Tapajos Basin?

43 Hydropower plants are being planned for the Tapajos Basin, including the Tapajos Hydro-dam Complex, including all the dams in different stages, such as large plants, small plants, plants being mapped, planned or already operating.

The number of dams planned for the Amazon Biome is 70.

Why target Siemens?

As the example of the Belo Monte mega-dam has shown, once contracts are signed to build the dam, it becomes next to impossible to stop it whether it is actually legal or not. Therefore, if key companies refuse to engage in such destructive projects, it puts important question marks behind the feasibility of the project and willĀ  ultimately make the dam more difficult to build.

Siemens-Voith is one of the world’s largest suppliersĀ  of large hydro turbines and generators – critical parts in any hydro electric dam. Greenpeace hae already publicly called on the other two leading suppliers (at their AGMs) to withdraw any plans they might have to be involved in the Tapajos dam. If these companies pull out it will be very hard to build the damn.

Why Is The Tapajos River So Important?

The Tapajos is considered an Amazon conservation hotspot. Some scientists believe the Tapajos to host the greatest Biodiversity int he Americas. Especially in regards to feline species. It is also home to 12000 Munduruku Indigenous people, who have lived in the Tapajos region for millennia. The building of the dam will affect their ability to fish and to hunt – in particular migratory fish and animals. Their sites would disappear. Such huge construction would attract thousands of temporary, migrant workers which would have significant social impact.

Are they really destroying so much forest?

Despite the area to be flooded, and therefore destroyed, being 376km2, there will be an estimated indirect deforestation (from new roads / people) of 2235km2 which represents almost half the annual deforestation rate.

Why tie this in with the human rights tag on your blog, Andy?

This may be a Greenpeace campaign. but, the issue of human rights has always been prevalent in in Greenpeace’s Rainforest campaigns; indigenous populations such as the Munduruku are the best forest guardians we have. I recognise their fundamental role in the preservation of the forest.

I thought all you lefty type sandal wearers like hydro electricity?

Hydroelectricity power can be considered as renewable energy, but is far from being a clean and harmless source when built in a fragile eco-system such as the amazon.

Hydro dams can emit vast amounts of greenhouse gases – both carbon dioxide and the much more powerful methane – as a result of the decay of flooded vegetation and soil. A study suggests that the Tapajos dam’s contribution to global warming could be as much as the equivalent of half a gas fired power station – and far more compared to wind or solar energy over a 20 year period. Which is the timescale within which decisive action is needed to prevent dangerous climate change.

If the river flows are affected due to climate change, so is the generation of hydroelectricity in hydroelectric plants. Even the storage of water in big reservoirs would be affected if water flows are different. A study commissioned by the Brazilian Government has indicated that by 2040 the river flow for the Tapajos could be reduced by 20% to 30%.

If it isn’t environmentally friendly – why build so many dams?

An investigation into corruption at state-run oil company Petrobras and major construction companies has shown that big construction in Brazil is riddled with corruption, including the major dams in the Amazon.

What about much needed jobs?

If we take the example of the Belo Monte dam the social cost are much higher than the capital benefits. Altamira (town) became engulfed in chaos with 50% more residents and huge social problems. There was an increase in deforestation with illegal opening of roads and invasion of indigenous lands bu miners, hunters and loggers.

Don’t the indigenous tribes get consulted about their land?

Brazil has signed Convention 169 of the International Labour Organisation (ILO), which guarantees to indigenous and traditional communities the right to free, prior and informed consent (FPIC). However, the Brazilian Government to date has steadfastly refused to follow this convention and other legislation that guarantees indigenous and traditional communities their rights.

 

The Day We Went Bat Hunting

After a farily uneventful weekend of sleep and slobbing, I decided to try and make one last hurrah for the weekend. The plan conspired after a telephone call to my Dad who mentioned that the Bats had started to fly around Dark Walk Woods on an evening.

I figured I had the right sort of microphone (a BatBox Baton) and the appropriate recording equipment (Olympus LS100) so I invited some loved ones to Valley Gardens in our town of Harrogate.

This was the first time I think I had been to Valley Gardens specifically to look for Bats – indeed, I cannot think of many other people who would be inclined to go to Valley Gardens to look for Bats.

Allan, Stewart, the wife & myself met up at our flat for quarter to nine and set off to Valley Gardens at a furious pace – I was determined that there would be bats and I was determined to see / listen to them. When we got to Valley Gardens it was still quite sunny and warm – it is just the other side of the town centre – as it had reached about 200Āŗc that day.

We walked up to the top of the parkland to the woodland, all the while surrounded by trees, bird-song and Stewart’s aromas. We sat kicking our heels for a good half an hour before we conceded that there were not going to be any bat sightings that night and I started apologising because me.

On the way down to the front end of Valley Gardens, I saw a massive Bat in my peripheral vision and drew the BatBox Baton like a six-shooter in the ol’ days of the West.

Long Eared Bat Spectrograph[/caption]yle=”text-align: justify;”>We spent a twenty humblingly blissful minutes listening to sounds that I do not think anyone in Valley Gardens had heard before – And, they were every where; the Bats that is. I was gobsmacked as the swooped, dived, pivoted and gracefully ate flies on the fly. I passed the BatBox Baton around the group and we all took a turn in pointing the thing, wildly spinning around on the spot trying to keep a track of the flying fur-balls.

Eventually, I had the gumption to whip out the LS100 and below is a two minute recording of, what I think are, Brown Long Eared Bats.

How did I arrive at the conclusion that they were Brown Long Eared Bats? I mean, they flew so swiftly that it was hard to make them out in the growing gloom. Well, tech.

After calling in to Major Tom’s & The Blues Bar for a swift libation I set about trying to figure out what species these magnificant creatures were.

I had a piece of software running on a Windows computer called BatScan. After editing the recording from the LS100 in Audacity I was able to compare the spectrograph of my recording with the sprectrograph of several species.

 

The spectograph of the recording above.


 

Brown Long Eared Bat


 

At first I thought I was on to something as the frequency range is the same a Pipistrelle – although, Pipistrelle have a condensed ‘natter’ in their call that was not present in my recording.

The duration of the peaks and troughs and the frequency range seem to fit the Common Long Eared Bat (Plecotus auritus), also known as the Common Long Eared Bat. According to my online research, the Brown Long Eared Bat is a fairly large European Bat and has ‘strikingly large ears’ (relatively) – please see attached image. They hibernate over winter, between November & April and feed along Hedgerows, Gardens, Woodlands & Parkland during the summer – my online research says that they have a relatively slow, fluttery flight; my opinion is was damn hard to keep up with the buggers. This species can live up to 30 years and is a good indication of the health of the local Eco-system as they are particularly prone to the effects of The Man.

Fun times had by all ….. and Bats!

Snoop Dogg vs. David Attenborough

Step aside, David Attenborough.

The Internet wanted Snoop Dogg as nature commentator, and now it’s happening. The dream began when his “Plizzanet Earth” videos went viral. Jimmy Kimmel featured the “Planet Earth” parodies on his late-night show, and fans loved watching the rapper-actor narrate animal scenes and give his (sometimes profane) thoughts on the natural world.

More than 65,000 people signed a petition to “Get Snoop Dogg to Narrate Whole Season of Planet Earth.”

Instead, the rapper has launched “Planet Snoop” on his “Merry Jane” YouTube channel, and while we warn you that it contains some mature language, it’s also Snoop doing what Snoop does best.

The first episode features an “epic battle” between a squirrel and a snake in which Snoop notes, “This squirrel is hard. What gang he from?”

Desmond & The Freshwater Floodings

The title of this entry is not the name of an obscure 50’s beat combo – oh no, Storm Desmond wreaked havoc in the fells of Cumbria and Scotland over the weekend. It had a personal effect on people I love, so this time it has got personal. The gloves are off Environment – I have created a Blog Category, entitled ‘Ranting About The Environment.’ This ‘Ranting About The Environment’ category could get me into a spot of bother, but, it will be about the Re-wilding of Britain.

There are two principal reasons for the freshwater flooding. The first, obviously, is heavy rainfall. Second, perhaps less obviously, is the way in which land and rivers respond to this rainfall. IĀ believe that the restoration of some of Britainā€™s missing ecosystems could play a major role in the prevention and mitigation of the kind of floods now blighting Cumbria and parts of Scotland. Continue reading →